Hot Web Sites with ColdFusion
a New Microsoft Keyboard Arrives
by Jim Bray
Web developers wanting to create dynamic sites may want to look at Macromedia's
While definitely not for the faint of heart, ColdFusion Server 5 ($1,295
to $4,995) is a powerful tool for developers. You install it on your Web
server, so if you're dealing with an outside Internet Service Provider
(as I do), you'll have to work with them to get the product installed
and up and running.
Once that's done, you can exploit the features of ColdFusion in a way
that's quite similar to how you'd mess around with HTML, in that you add
arcane-looking tags to Web pages - except that the tags are different
from garden variety HTML and expand your site's possibilities.
It's what ColdFusion does behind the scenes, on the Web server, that
makes all the difference. While a chimpanzee can do an HTML Web site these
days (check out my site to see for yourself!), ColdFusion isn't just a
language: it's an application server. This means you can use it to create
real, online applications like publishing systems for e-zines, e-commerce
online stores, cyberspace-based solutions that help keep businesspeople
connected, and much more.
When I first delved into the product my life started flashing before
my eyes, and even now after having used ColdFusion for a couple of months
I'm not much more comfortable with it. This is mostly because I'm not
a full time Web developer; I merely dabble, and dabbling with heavy duty
stuff like ColdFusion is like a grade school student trying to design
a nuclear-powered space ship.
Still, by reverse engineering (read "stealing") from some existing ColdFusion
applications I've been using on my site and another one I've been administering,
I've learned how to make some pretty nifty forms and stuff - things I've
always had trouble with using only HTML and/or cgi scripts which never
seem to work properly for me.
And that's only scratching the surface. Macromedia's Web site at www.macromedia.com
includes a whole section showcasing real examples of how companies have
exploited ColdFusion. It's a broad selection, with the common theme being
interactivity between sites and users, and users and users.
Version 5 should be a nice upgrade for those who've already been using
ColdFusion. Macromedia says the learning curve is easy (I might beg to
differ - but it could just be me!), the new version requires you to use
less code than earlier ones, and a new integrated "charting engine" supposedly
lets you easily create colorful charts and reports. You can also add full-text
searching capabilities to a site, letting your surfers poke through some
250,000 different pages looking for info.
Other new features include upgraded application monitoring that lets
you track your site's performance, and there's expanded support for the
Linux Operating System that's becoming ever more popular with the "Bill
Gates is the Antichrist" crowd.
ColdFusion Server 5 is also meant to work with other Macromedia products
like Fireworks, a powerful graphic creation tool. There isn't a really
good WYSIWYG editor that lets you use ColdFusion, unfortunately, which
means you're stuck with messing around with tags. You'd think Macromedia
Dreamweaver would do the job, but it doesn't really. This is Macromedia's
first kick at ColdFusion, however, since having acquired it from another
company, so perhaps version 5 of Dreamweaver will make exploiting ColdFusion
as easy as it makes working with HTML.
Fortunately, Macromedia offers a lot of support and resources, and has
a whole online community based at its Web site where you can pick the
brains of other users, sign up for training courses, or take advantage
of a "knowledge base" of solutions. It's a handy place to poke around.
On an unrelated note, Microsoft has unleashed the $65 Office Keyboard,
which offers some 50 programmable button options and incorporates some
nifty "mouse-like" features that allow you to keep your hand on the keyboard
more, theoretically speeding up your work. It uses a standard PS/2 or
USB connection (mine came with USB).
On the downside, the mouse features are on the left hand side of the keyboard,
which is going to make it feel pretty strange for the first while for
right handed people. Microsoft has also seen fit to mess around with the
traditional layout of many keys, which I also found created a learning
curve. Still, it's a neat idea.
Jim Bray's technology columns are distributed by the TechnoFILE and Mochila Syndicates. Copyright Jim Bray.
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